Next month the NASA MSL Curiosity rover will attempt to land on Mars, marking the 49th mission to explore our near neighbor. Unlike other missions that used airbag landing systems, Curiosity will use a risky rocket powered sky crane because of its weight. Once landed the rover will look for signs of life.
It’s often hard to really grasp history in large scales. Our relatively short lifespan doesn’t lend itself to contemplation of billions of years. The fact that we have managed to probe back to the Big Bang and the birth of time itself Continue reading
I’ve made some changes to the site. Some of the work has been streamlining but the biggest change has been a change of ‘skin’. One of the great features of WordPress is it’s skinning or “Theme” technology – which allows you to switch the appearance of your blog extremely easily.
With the increasing popularity of mobile devices I wanted to ensure the site was readable in as many different ways as possible. The new skin should be compatible with the desktop, iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad and all major browsers and devices. I’ve checked it as much as I can and it seems to work. Let me know if you find any problems.
The Final Frontier? Perhaps not quite in a Star Trek sense, but breath-taking nevertheless.
According to data from the Voyager 1 probe it has crossed, or is crossing, the boundary between our own Solar System and interstellar space. For the first time in our history we can claim to have carried out a space mission beyond our own “local neighborhood”.
Through multiple “layers” wrapped around the sun like onion skins–the Heliosphere, Heliopause, Heliosheath and Bow Shock– the probe has made its long nuclear-powered journey to the very edge of our Sun’s influence and is passing into the void between the stars.
However, unlike the USS Enterprise which zooms between star systems Continue reading
Having a free, open internet is a vital part of our modern society. Big Media lobby groups are trying to do away with that and bring in draconian measures to take these freedoms away.
An article published by the NPR reveals the astonishing detail that part of the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq includes $20 billion spent on air-conditioning. This figure was estimated by Brigadier General Steven Anderson, a now -retired chief logistician for the Pentagon.
So let’s see:
- NASA annual budget – $5 bn (2011)
- Estimated cost to finish and Launch James Webb – $3 bn
- Estimated cost to build a space elevator – $6-20 bn
Even this doesn’t scratch the surface of the sheer waste involved here. The article goes on to detail how the fuel to power all this air-conditioning is transported through extremely risky convoys, putting countless lives at on the line.
Of course, you could argue that the soldiers are putting their lives at risk to protect democracy and deserve to be comfortable, though that argument might not stand up to scrutiny. But there’s more to it even than that.
These soldier’s are living in temporary shelters – tents. Now everyone knows that tents aren’t great insulators – anyone who has spent a couple of cold days in one can tell you that. Well, all of these tents could be cheaply insulated using polyurethane foam spray, which cuts energy use by over 90%.
So the U.S. could save lives, cut energy costs, finance all of NASA, a space telescope and go a long way to building a space elevator – just by insulating tents.
As expected, the Skylon didn’t get any of NASA’s funding giveaway. The results are out though, with funding going to Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Boeing.
A total of over $250 million is being awarded to the winners who will now be able to refine their ideas and designs to take NASA astronauts back into space.
Some of them aren’t exactly waiting around though. SpaceX have already announced that they will be ready to fly their first manned missions within three years!
Good luck to all of them.
It’s a shame that it comes in the shadows of reports of more bad press for NASA, detailing a culture of habitual lying over project budgets and bullying people who speak out.
As we enter the final days of the Space Shuttle program, new research has shown that the cost per flight was $1.5 billion per flight with a total cost of nearly $200 billion.
While many of the achievements of the space shuttle have been applauded, criticism of the performance and efficacy of the programme came early and proved to be scarily accurate. A year before the first launch, the Washington Monthly forecast many of the Shuttle’s subsequent problems: the overambitious launch schedule and subsequent higher costs per flight, the lack of a practical abort method, and the fragility of the Shuttle’s thermal protection system.
The Shuttle technology was largely derived from old technology and didn’t push the boundaries of what might be achieved and yet, despite this, still managed to be both highly unreliable and costly. NASA made a lot of promises for the Shuttle program and when they found it impossible to deliver on these
they changed the rules, played games and hid the truth; while cutting safety procedures and pushing for unrealistic and unsafe launch schedules. Taking part in the investigation into the Challenger investigation, Richard Feynman said NASA was trying to “repeal the laws of nature” through its risky and overly aggressive launch schedules.
Studies of other alternative launch technologies available at the time show that the Shuttle was no cheaper and significantly less reliable than the Saturn technology it replaced. But in throwing away the Saturn programme, NASA also lost the ability to reach the moon and in doing so threw away the possibility of any kind of Mars mission too.
The Shuttles looked the part, for sure. They looked like the kind of space plane that we see in science fiction and promised to deliver that level of access to space. But appearances can be, and were, deceptive. The writing was on the wall from a very early time in the programme’s life, but no-one dared talk about the ceramic-tile coated white elephant that was in the corner of the room.
Once the Shuttle is gone, NASA will rely on commercial companies for access to space. Without the spectre of the Shuttle unfairly competing with them, we can hope that these companies will be able to successfully develop.
[Images courtesy: Wikipedia]
The Falcon heavy will provide double the delivery capacity (a whopping 53 tonnes!) of all existing systems, dwarfing both the Delta IV and the Space Shuttle. This means that the cost of delivering payload to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will drop significantly – in fact the company estimates that the launcher would save the US $1 billion in launch services per year.
The impact of this system when it comes on stream will be huge, providing access to space at a fraction of the current cost (something that the badly flawed shuttle was supposed to do and never achieved) and allowing the delivery of systems (Imagine a space telescope 5 times as big as the Hubble!) of previously unachievable size.
The engineering of the SpaceX fleet shows real imagination and a determination to push back the boundaries of what is possible in rocketry. We should all feel proud of the achievements that they have made and undoubtedly will achieve in the future.
No doubt they will have their share of issues in the future; as their rival Scaled Composites unfortunately showed, the path to Space is not an easy one. Nevertheless, let us hope that they (and Scaled Composites) continue the push to take us truly into space.
Nothing of any value is achieved without a cost.
According to IT Business, Ontario’s Electric car infrastructure will use a “cell phone” business plan.
People will buy electric ‘miles’ at top up stations or swap batteries in a system combining subscription and pay-to-play models. This apparently is the best for everyone concerned. As the article says:
“Much like how your cell phone contract helps to subsidize the expensive handset you purchase with your plan, your electric car could also be subsidized with your subscription to using the electric infrastructure.”
Interesting. Now I obviously always completely misunderstood the motivation for this type of pricing model, as I always thought that the only reason for its existence was in order to guarantee a constant stream of revenue for overpriced services to the very wealthy phone companies.
I guess I must have got that wrong…
Now, let’s see. A high level phone costs around $400. A typical phone contract would be about $40 a month, with a three year commitment.
So Obscenely Rich Phone Company (TM) gets a guaranteed ($)12x40x3- $1440 for a $400 phone (which doesn’t even cost them $400 anyway!).
Oh and then they screw you for ‘air time’ too.
Sure, let’s apply this to electric cars too. I’m sure the electric car companies are all in favour of this ‘model’.
How about doing something for the consumers for a change, Mr. McGuinty?
Oops there goes another aerial porcine…